Toronto
2 min

Circles within circles

A spellbinding spiral of fantasy & reality

PSYCHO. Hitchcock is just one of many film references in Pedro Almodóvar's latest masterpiece Bad Education, starring Gael García Bernal as three different but related characters. Credit: Xtra files

Pedro Almodóvar’s new film is the masterpiece we were all expecting. Almodóvar is considered by many to be the most fascinating living filmmaker and his 15th feature, Bad Education (La Mala Educación), continues his career-long exploration of desire and passion, going even darker than his last feature Talk To Her.



Returning to Live Flesh territory, Almodóvar transforms the film noir genre with the same balance of reverence and bold experimentation with which he has revolutionized the genre of melo- drama. He is dressed up more like Hitchcock than Sirk here, constructing his most complex plot to date – which is saying a lot – a tangle of stories within stories and films within films spanning three decades that plumb the lurid themes dear to the cold heart of the noir genre: moral uncertainty, deception and shifting identities run amok.



As is typical of Almodóvar’s work, Bad Education positively dazzles with its fluid transitions between artifice and reality, fantasy and memory. From its opening credits the visual design is as staggering, the colours as sensual and sumptuous as anything Almodóvar has produced thus far.



Here is an attempt at a plot summary: Young, successful gay filmmaker Enrique (Fele Martínez) is visited by a nervous hottie claiming to be his former schoolmate Ignacio (Gael García Bernal). Ignacio presents Enrique with a script that dramatizes their experiences together at a strict Catholic school: They were childhood loves who were separated by their harsh, jealous principal Father Manolo (Daniel Giménez Cacho) who lusted after Ignacio himself. Ignacio the screenwriter goes on to imagine a reunion of these three figures several years later when they have gone their separate ways (and in typical Almodóvarian fashion, different genders). Enrique decides that this shall be his next film.…



Bad Education premiered here at the Toronto International Film Festival and was one of a slew of films dealing with childhood sexual abuse in imaginative, daring ways. What was so fascinating was seeing how the other filmmakers have absorbed one of Almodóvar’s most enduring characteristics: his unparalleled bravery for presenting any perversion or transgression with an enormous depth of feeling.



For example, an unsettling yet blatantly romantic scene features young Ignacio serenading Manolo with a rendition of “Moon River,” the song performed by Audrey Hepburn in the film Breakfast At Tiffany’s. This is just one of the many references that the legendary Spanish cinephile includes: He is unmatched at capturing the vitality and value that the cinema plays in many people’s lives.



Bad Education does not feature as many moments of pure tear-jerking beauty as some of his more recent films. There are at least two reasons I could think of for this: the near absence of female actors and the fact that the director is forced to expend much of his energy just keeping the wildly elaborate plot in order. Nevertheless, it is clear that Almodóvar’s golden years have no end in sight. Amen.



* Bad Education, in Spanish with English subtitles, opens Fri, Jan 14.